The Ultimate Wire Harness Connectors Guide

wire harnesses with connectors on a white background

Wiring harness connectors come in an array of sizes, shapes, and materials in order to produce the best results in a given application. Our cable engineers utilize different wiring harness types in custom wiring harnesses every day to perfect their designs in terms of continuity, integrity, and safety. 

In today’s LiveWire spotlight, we’re honing in on the wide world of wiring harness connectors and terminals to give you a better idea as to just how important these components are in the overall design. 

What is a Harness Connector?

Wire harnesses provide both protection and organization for a cable assembly. Outside forces like abrasion, extreme temperatures, moisture, dust, and more, all bombard a cable assembly and can work to degrade components over time. Wire harnesses provide protection against these forces and are specifically engineered for whatever environment the application happens to be. Wire harness connectors, as part of this system, are the bridge for providing a consistent flow of data, signal, or power.  

There are essentially two main types of wire or cable harness connectors—male and female.  Male and female wire harness connectors serve to provide the necessary junctions between the many different elements of the wire harness to produce an efficient transmission of data, signal, or power through the system. In simplistic terms, plugs are usually male connectors and jacks are female wire harness connectors. 

Connectors come in all sorts of sizes, shapes, and dimensions in order to fit perfectly within the electrical system they need to support. From cutting edge medical devices to complex industrial control systems, the humble wire harness connector makes these marvels of modern technology possible. 

Different Types of Wiring Harness Connectors

When our wiring engineers set to work designing the perfect custom harnesses, the types of connectors they use are based on a variety of factors such as the types of connections present, what type of insulation is needed, and what kind of power and signal contacts there are. Different configurations within the wiring harness itself can dictate the need for one connector over another. There’s wire-to-wire configurations, board-to-board, and different combinations therein to consider. 

Our team will typically utilize standard connector designs with either a 2-pin, 3-pin, or 4-pin setup. A host of data sets are used to find the perfect connector design to meet the needs of the system, as well as fit within the client’s budget and time horizon. Effectively bringing efficient design, manufacturing, and logistics together in one cohesive package is the mark of a great custom wire harness manufacturer. 

Variables we plan for with each production run include:

  • The rating of the current.
  • The density and/or size of the circuit.
  • How much engagement force is required.
  • The gauge and length of individual wires.
  • The voltage required. 
  • Any certifications required.
  • How much each component costs.
  • Lead times to bring it all together.

Mitigating for delays and cost overruns has become a speciality with our team. After you’ve been a leader in custom cable manufacturing for decades, the intrinsic knowledge of your team and a vast tooling inventory really pays dividends in the quality of each product produced. 

A Closer Look at Wiring Harness Terminals

Terminals are what they sound like—their termination of a wire. At this important junction, you might have the end of a wiring component or you may have a connector to a different component, it all depends on the needs of the system. Terminals come in a variety of sizes and shapes, as well, and are all pertinent to their particular application. 

A few of the many different types of wire harness terminals include:

  • Rings: these terminals have a rounded end which lets it attach to screws and studs. Available in many different sizes, they can be insulated and crimped or soldered onto wires.
  • Spades – with a unique fork shape, these have an easily-attachable open end ideal for tight spaces.
  • Hooks – also with an open end, these are simple and efficient terminals with a high durability rating.
  • Quick-connect/disconnect – these are great for industrial control systems and automotive applications where the harness needs to be connected and disconnected rapidly.
  • Bullets – great for connections between male and female wire harness connectors.

Terminals play into the overall design of wire harness connections by providing the necessary junction from which a cabling harness can be terminated or progress to other components. Their design is just as crucial as any aspect of the custom wire harness in order to produce a product with the continuity, integrity, and safety required to pass our stringent in-house quality assurance testing.

How to Design Wire Harness Connectors

Seeing all the different types of applications for wire harnesses—telecommunications, medical, military, industrial, automotive, and more, it’s no small wonder that wire harnesses are an extremely customized piece of hardware within the electric system. When our designers first sit down with our clients, we work to understand the application in its entirety, as well as the budget and time constraints that require careful project management.

Location, Location, Location

One of the first steps in choosing the perfect wire harness connectors for a custom wire harness includes looking at the location and environmental factors of the intended application. Wire harnesses are usually behind-the-scenes operators, hanging out inside of the overall system to provide their critical support role. This can mean some very constrained locations where temperature, abrasion, moisture, and other variables all come into play. 

Think about military applications. Our men and women in uniform need their gear to go to the most extreme environments on planet Earth, and beyond, and still work flawlessly. This requires a cable engineer to know the environmental variables involved and assemble the perfect set of components to meet, if not exceed., the specifications of the project. 

Mitigating Against Interference

With the location in mind, comes figuring out the different types of interference that require protection. Interference comes in many different forms but all basically serve to degrade the transmission of data, power, or signal. Effective mitigation techniques such as using Mylar sheathing for electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI) can help preserve the signal and maintain a clean flow. This is especially important when it comes to communications

With high-tech communications equipment, our engineers have to work to protect the system from the many types of interference that would otherwise degrade a signal or even cause complete failure altogether. 

Precision Measurements Make Better Wire Harnesses

Using the correct connectors and terminals as part of a quality wiring harness design helps to make sure that the harness is stout, protected, and routed appropriately to give the system the best conditions possible for doing its job effectively. All of the lengths of wire, gauges, terminals, connections, sheaths, shields, and insulation are carefully measured and accounted for within the wire harness design to bring about the most efficient use of materials possible. This helps projects stay both on-time and on-budget through production.

Why Quality Matters With Wiring Harness Connectors and Terminals

In order to maintain our ISO 9001:2015 certification, Meridian has to be able to demonstrate both a quality of product and a quality of process on a continual basis. This requires a certain degree of fanaticism on behalf of our product testing team in order to make sure each and every wiring harness off our assembly line is known to perform within specifications. 

We have a wide variety of testing procedures including venerable Cirrus automated testing units, but, as is the case with custom creations, there are often times when we have to create a custom test to accurately measure a custom wire harness. Our Advanced Life Testing Lab is one of the coolest places in Meridian where our quality assurance engineers put wire and cable harness connectors through extreme, real world conditions to make sure they’ll be more than ready to take on whatever is asked of them. 

The second aspect of quality, quality of process, is undertaken with a lean production mentality. Utilizing methods such as just-in-time order, Kanban production, and six sigma process improvement, we continually analyse, measure, and improve our processes to be the very best they can be. A cool aspect of the ISO 9001 certification we maintain, is that this also applies to customer service. We strive to ensure that every customer of Meridian is treated with care and respect as we work to produce the perfect product to fit within even the most exacting specifications. This level of commitment is what truly sets apart working with a custom cable and wire harness manufacturer over using a generic off-the-shelf product.

Getting Your Harness the Best Connectors and Terminals

When it comes to using the perfectly-designed wire harness connectors and terminals, a custom cable manufacturer with the specific knowledge and experience in your industry is a must. After decades of doing nothing but high-quality designs, our team has built an incredible wealth of knowledge and a vast tooling inventory which allows us to produce one-of-a-kind solutions for even the most complex systems. Contact our team today to review your project’s specifications.